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Kimberly McFerron knows all about embracing change and ditching plans at a moment’s notice. The mom of two living in Seattle, WA was two weeks past her due date when she gave birth to her first daughter, now 10. She has endured a litany of endometriosis issues, requiring multiple surgeries and causing pregnancy loss. And just a few short months after finding out she was pregnant with her second daughter, a global pandemic took hold of the United States. So it’s extremely on brand for her second daughter’s birth story to be the epitome of mastering the art of the pivot.
“We had all these plans and then we had to change them,” McFerron told HeyMama. “And then we changed them again.”
Due to her health issues and previous pregnancy losses, McFerron didn’t announce her pregnancy to friends or family until she was 16 weeks along. “Even though I knew people would rally around me, no matter what happened, I wasn’t ready for the disappointment if I had to share it with other people,” she explained. But that disappointment never came, so at her and her husband’s wedding celebration on New Year’s Eve of last year, she announced her pregnancy.
“We announced it in December and we had put together this entire birth plan,” she said. “Because I’m so high-risk, we were going to do a hospital delivery. We had our hospital picked out, our midwifery team picked out — we had all the plans made. And then COVID started to get real here, and we’re in Seattle, where it all started as far as the US is concerned.”
During the onset of the COVID-19 crises, McFerron’s hospital didn’t offer midwifery care via telehealth, so she was still going to the hospital for prenatal appointments. It was during her third appointment when she realized she no longer felt safe going to a hospital at a time when a deadly virus was just taking hold.
“Every time we would go to one of our appointments, I just had so much anxiety,” she explained. “And this was early enough that they weren’t even doing temperature checks. Everything felt so fast and loose and out of control, and I just didn’t feel safe even going to my appointments. So I couldn’t imagine going into the hospital and being in the same building as the emergency room where all kinds of various sick people are and bringing this baby out of a safe environment and into an environment where things aren’t potentially that safe.”
She was now faced with a choice: change birthing locations or stick to the birth plan of a hospital birth. McFerron consulted her midwife, who told her there was no reason why she couldn’t have a safe birth at a birthing center. For the notorious planner, deviating from her previous birth plan of action, and during a time of so much uncertainty and overwhelm, wasn’t easy. “I’m very much a planner, so as long as I can make a plan I feel OK,” she said. “But this is not what we planned for. So it just felt chaotic. Everything felt chaotic on a whole other level.” But, in the end, she knew it was necessary, so she transferred to a birthing center and prepared for a drug-free water birth.
Immediately, McFerron felt a significant sense of relief. “I felt so much more comfortable and a sense of safety and relief about the birth experience itself,” she said. So as the COVID-19 crisis took hold around her, McFerron stayed home and focused on what she could control — an exercise she had learned after experiencing the ache of miscarriage.
“When you lose a pregnancy you feel so out of control,” she explained. “But there’s no amount of anything you can do to make you feel like you have control.” So she practiced letting go, rolling with the punches, and taking life, and her pregnancy, as it came.
So when her due date came and went, she once again managed her expectations and prepared for a potential shift in the overall birth plan. “We wanted to avoid pushing things until the absolute last minute,” she said. “So when we got to 41 weeks and three days, we started natural induction options.”
First McFerron had her membranes swept twice by her midwife, which “didn’t do much of anything,” she said. Next, she started alternating between black and blue cohosh from Mountain Meadow Herbs, which is said to trigger contractions, and starting pumping. “I pumped for two hours straight, and then I started having contractions,” she explained. “And once that happened, things started progressing very quickly. My contractions, nearly immediately, were only three minutes apart, so it got super intense really, really quickly.”
With the early onset of intense contractions, and the fact that this was McFerron’s second live birth, she had planned for a quick labor. But true to form, that birth plan didn’t come to fruition either. “We got to the birthing center Friday night, at around 7 or 8 o’clock,” she explained. “I labored all through the night and by the morning had only progressed to four or five centimeters dilation… after 12 hours of labor.”
McFerron had been up for more than 24 hours straight, she was so nauseous throughout labor she couldn’t keep food or even water down so she had no way to replenish her energy, and due to what she later found out was a serious misalignment in her pelvis, was experiencing labor pains unlike anything she had ever experienced — and she gave birth to her first daughter sans medication. “I had moved from a place of being in pain to being in suffering,” she said. And after checking her daughter’s fetal heart tones during her now-erratic contractions, the midwife learned her daughter was also in distress.
Once again, McFerron was faced with a decision: continue down the birth plan she was on, or transfer to a hospital where she could be monitored more closely and be administered drugs to help quell the pain and push the labor along.
“It was one of those moments when my midwife looked at me and I looked at her and I knew what the right thing was, I just couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud,” she said. “I committed so much to this idea of the birthing experience that I wanted to have and I was also so afraid to be in a hospital setting. There was so much that went into it, but obviously we knew it was the best thing — the safest thing — for us to be in a hospital where we could be more closely monitored.”
McFerron was allowed to transfer to a nearby hospital with both her husband and her midwife, acting as her doula. And, thankfully, the birth team that ended up caring for McFerron were “amazing,” she said. “They were so supportive and it was a very progressive experience, as far as hospital births are concerned.” McFerron immediately asked for and received an epidural so that she could sleep (“I was like, just give me all the drugs. The natural, pain-free coping technique birth is out the window, which is fine. I’m here for all the drugs now. So I got an epidural, I got pitocin, and I immediately went to sleep for four hours — it was the best nap I’ve ever taken.”) and after four hours, it was time to push.
McFerron instructed her husband to put on a 90s Spotify playlist, and after songs from The Foo Fighters, Nirvana, and Oasis (that she immediately demanded someone skip) her daughter entered the world as Cake’s “The Distance” played in the background.
“It was not at all the birth experience I thought I was going to have, like even remotely,” she said. “But it actually ended up being its own different kind of amazing and empowering.”
McFerron says she has learned so much about the art of letting go and not wasting time and energy trying to predict the unpredictable and plan for a future that’s nothing if not random. And those lessons have certainly aided her in the postpartum period as she cares for her now 6-week-old daughter as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
In fact, she assumed she would have food allergies covered this time around. Her first daughter, after all, had severe food allergies, so McFerron had already cut out gluten, dairy, soy, corn, shellfish, and nuts from her diet. “I thought we had food allergies in the bag with the second kid,” she explained. “And then it wasn’t even a week in when she started showing signs of severe stomach pain.”
Before McFerron could have her daughter seen, she tried and found success comforting her daughter after feedings with Mountain Meadow Herbs Infant Tummy Aid. “It was like 2:00 a.m. and we were beside ourselves, not knowing what to do — not even because of the lack of sleep but because we couldn’t do anything to soothe her,” she said. “The belly massage wasn’t working; we were doing bicycles with her legs. So we gave her the tummy aid and it was literally night and day in a matter of moments. We keep it at the bed, at the ready, because it has been the only thing that has made her feel better when she’s experiencing distress. It has been amazing. We still use it every time she’s even gassy.”
Turns out, McFerron’s infant daughter is allergic to eggs and coconut. So now, she faces another change — striking eggs from her diet, something she is not thrilled about since “I eat eggs every day,” she said. “She is also incredibly sensitive to red meat so I have to take a break from that as well.”
Still, McFerron knows she is resilient — she has the birth plan and story to prove it. And that’s something she hopes her daughter eventually takes from the story of her birth, too.
“I think there’s a lot of focus on the resiliency of babies, and that’s valid and I think that focus is necessary,” she told me. “But I think the resiliency of moms goes unnoticed a lot of times. And I think that does our mother community a huge disservice. We have to be resilient along with our babies in order to figure it all out.”
And while McFerron hasn’t figured it all out just yet — and knows she never will — she’s ready for the next pivot life throws her way.